In a conference call with dairy media this morning, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) officials say the prospects for immigration reform are better this year than in the past decade.
Last week, NMPF announced it was part of Agricultural Workforce Coalition (AWC) that encompasses 11 agricultural organizations pushing for reform.
Jerry Kozak, NMPF President and CEO, cites three reasons why reform this year is likely:
1. The impact of the November election on Republicans in which many noted the huge majority of Hispanic voters who rejected Republican candidates.
2. President Obama’s hope for a "legacy achievement" in immigration reform.
3. Widespread belief by the American business community that the "don’t ask, don’t tell" approach to undocumented workers is unsustainable.
"We will try to fold the agricultural piece into the overall immigration reform package," Kozak says. But he says AWC is prepared to work toward a separate agricultural labor bill if a comprehensive package stalls in Congress.
The first efforts will likely come in the U.S. Senate, with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) leading a bi-partisan effort.
The AWC proposal addresses both foreign-born workers already here and future workers as well. The general outline for a guest worker program is outlined below, pulled from the AWC website:
Agricultural Worker Program
The uncapped Agricultural Worker Visa Program ("AWP") will ensure agriculture’s future legal workforce. The AWP allows both employer and employee choice and flexibility by including two options:
"At-Will" employees have the freedom to move from employer to employer without any contractual commitment. They would have a visa term of up to 11 months with USDA registered employers and then return home for 30 days. There would be no limit on the number of times a person could obtain the 11-month visa.
Contract employees commit to work for an employer for a fixed period of time and would have a visa term of up to 12 months (renewable indefinitely), and conditioned upon a commitment to return to their home country for at least 30 days over a 3-year period.
In order to minimize the impact on current economic activity, the AWC supports an adjustment of status for experienced but unauthorized agricultural workers who currently reside in the U.S. This adjustment should include the following components:
These workers have a future obligation to work for a number of days annually in agriculture for several years.
Upon completion of this future work obligation, the workers will obtain permanent legal status and the right to work in whatever industries they choose.
More on Agricultural Workforce Coalition can be found here.
More on Sen. Rubio's push for reform can be read here.